Astro Tripper

What we liked:
+ Addictive, classic game play
+ Replayable
+ Challenging
What we didn't like:
- Seriously, it's challenging
- Superstardust HD already exists
Rating
8.5
DEVELOPER: PomPom Games   |   PUBLISHER: PomPom Games   |   RELEASE: 03/19/2009

Another retro shooter, another excellent price.

Last week, Astro Tripper snuck onto the PlayStation Store. A top-down, side-scrolling shooter from nimble UK developer PomPom Games the title may not have the publicity showing of other games, but it is a genuine PSN gem. A remake of their own Space Tripper, Astro Tripper is a frenzied retro style shoot-em-up with a sweet, $4.99 price tag.

You are given control of a tiny spaceship armed with two upgradable weapons and tasked with fighting off spinning, shooting, spidery baddies. The ship comes equipped with a blue laser, which works as a traditional weapon clearing a path wherever you aim. A bit more unique and slightly less powerful is the red laser, which works as a sort of spread gun that swerves around enemies directly in your path to blast those in your periphery. Upgrades that increase your firing power can be picked up as you blast through the alien forces, as can some bonus points.

X fires your weapon of choice, and a tap of the Square button swaps which weapon you have armed. Circle changes direction, and though your ship can only be flipped to face either left or right you are able to fly in any direction. The simple controls are just part of what makes Astro Tripper so addictive. Another part? The game is hard – very, very hard. If you played Super Stardust HD and thought, “Great game, just wish it was harder” then Astro Tripper is for you (you sadist).

The game has three difficulty levels, with the first two available immediately and a third, unlockable, difficulty. In Easy, there is a border along the edges of the level so that you and your ship won’t plummet into space. Hard and Hardest are not so kind. Even on Easy, Astro Tripper is not shy about the number of enemies you have to tackle. For the most part the game is just in its difficulty. There are, however, definite moments of “hardcore” (or “you bastards!”) when an enemy warps into your neighborhood destroying your ship.

There are two available game play modes, Adventure and Challenge. In Adventure mode you progress through the fourteen levels over four different worlds. Each world has three to four levels, ending with a boss. You begin with three lives and for every one million points you gain another, and adding to the game’s challenge is the fittingly old-school take on death: if you perish in a level you are starting that level from the beginning. Should you lose all three lives, you are back at beginning of the entire world. Feeling inclined to play it safe? You must defeat all the enemies before the timer runs out to advance to the next level.

In Challenge mode you fight to the death, or if you’re good, through a handful of levels. Challenge mode is only one difficulty, and has you working through four levels with no hope of additional lives – and one is all you have to start with. In the four successive Challenge levels you are pitted against waves of enemies in environments like those found in Adventure mode. Your high scores will upload to the online leader boards, you can keep your misery to yourself.

Each alien world is unique in character and appearance. The levels’ size, shape and pitfalls affect game play more than the standard environmental backdrops of shoot-em-ups. For starters, the stages don’t behave as a kind of wallpaper with invisible borders so much as a battle arena, and instead have edges you can fall off of, narrower areas to navigate, even moving obstacles that will destroy your ship. Making the stages into something more than inexplicably finite space morphs them into enemies in and of themselves.

Astro Tripper is not a graphical powerhouse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good-looking game. The aesthetic may not test the limits of the system, but some games are just natural beauties. The sound is appropriately retro, though the custom soundtrack option is available for gamers not wooed by the arcade audio. The game offers Trophies, and does them right – you could, feasibly, make it through the four or more hours of game without ever achieving a single Trophy. Astro Tripper’s style of game play is conducive to plenty of replay, though, particularly given the game’s difficulty.

With roots so firmly grounded in arcade classicism there isn’t anything groundbreaking here, and it is hard to penalize a game for doing something well just because it has already been done. The indie style game play is delivered with only the essentials, and you are driven forward by points, new levels, and the sheer addictive nature of zooming back and forth blasting through enemies.Astro Tripper is a prime example of the good gaming we can enjoy when the likes of PomPom Games sneakily inject their retro sensibilities onto PSN.